The Houston Rockets were excused from the NBA bubble after the Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled over them in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinals series Saturday night. With the season over for the Rockets, the focus now shifts toward next year, and figuring out how this team can reach the NBA Finals and hopefully win a championship. With so much money tied up in James Harden and Russell Westbrook, there aren’t many moves Houston can make, especially since it traded most of its draft capital to the Thunder in the deal for Westbrook, and there are no young players to entice teams in an offer. 

Daryl Morey and the rest of the Rockets’ front office will have to spend the next few months coming up with a new master plan that can propel this team to a championship, and one huge question they will have to answer is if Mike D’Antoni will still be the team’s coach next season. Morey recently said that re-signing D’Antoni was a “top priority” for the franchise this offseason, and if it were up to the 69-year-old head coach, he’d be happy to remain in Houston as well.

After the Rockets’ Game 5 loss on Saturday, D’Antoni spoke fondly of Houston’s franchise and what the team is trying to build upon.

“We’ve got a great organization, great city, great fans, team’s great,” D’Antoni said. “I mean, everything’s good here. We’ll see what happens, but I couldn’t ask for a better situation. I had four years. Hopefully it keeps going, but you just never know. But everything is good on this side, for sure.”

D’Antoni’s status with the franchise has been up in the air all season, and there have been many reports saying that if he didn’t deliver a championship or a deep playoff run this season, the Rockets would likely move on. Houston had an opportunity to sign its coach to a contract extension last summer, but those talks broke down, with D’Antoni’s agent and Houston owner Tilman Fertitta blaming each other for an extension not getting done.

After waiting to assess what would happen in the postseason, the Rockets are now faced with making a decision on D’Antoni, someone who has the support of franchise star James Harden. When asked if he would like to see his coach return next season, Harden told reporters after Game 5, “of course,” and that D’Antoni has done “some unbelievable things” with the Rockets.

One of those unbelievable things that D’Antoni did was Houston’s shift to purely playing small ball this season. At the trade deadline, the Rockets dealt their starting center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team trade that landed them Robert Covington from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The decision was made in order to open up Houston’s offense more for Westbrook who thrives when he’s able to penetrate the basket, as well as give the team a 3-and-D threat in Covington. It worked incredibly well for Westbrook and the Rockets, and it even forced the Lakers to rethink their game plan against Houston in their second-round series. 

Morey values D’Antoni’s innovation, and when you have a player as creative as Harden as the star of your team, you need some out-of-the-box thinking to continuously find success. However, in the four seasons that D’Antoni’s been in charge, the Rockets have made the Western Conference finals just once, and have fallen in the second round the other three seasons. Houston may find that a change at coach is necessary to get over that hump, and if they do, D’Antoni will surely find another coaching job somewhere else. He’s reportedly being considered as a candidate for the Indiana Pacers coaching vacancy, and per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, he’s going to consider all his options regardless if the Rockets decide to bring him back or not.

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